Autism, Apps and iPads: Unlocking the Puzzle
The opportunity is to determine best strategies and discover effective methods for autistic children to use iPads, Droids and tablets.
Autism impacts about one in 88 children and one in 54 are boys, according to estimates from CDC's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network (ADDM). Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of developmental disabilities characterized by impairments in social interaction and communication and by restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.
AutismCares awarded 180 iPads to families with autistic children in 2012. Autism Speaks is another organization that provides an online catalog of Autism Apps for Androids, iPads, iPhones and iTouch. There's also a short list of free autistism-related apps here. Back in July, autism researchers were awarded a $1.2M grant to test iPad apps to help children with social communication. They will train 48 preschoolers with autism to use an iPad voice output such as Proloquo2Go and TalkRocket Go.
An initial study conducted by researchers found that apps on the iPad and iPod make it easier for kids with autism to concentrate and improve their ability to express themselves. A question I had about why autistic kids find the iPad appealing, is answered by a Mom with an autistic son that volunteers in her son's school. She told me that, "Almost all the children love the computers, the games and iPads because they're almost always visual learners."
According to Medscape Reference, therapies that are reported to help some individuals with autism include the following:
* Assisted communication--Using keyboards, letter boards, word boards, and other devices (the Picture Exchange Communication System), with the assistance of a therapist. * Auditory integration training--A procedure in which the individual listens to specially prepared sounds through headphones.
The iPads and iPods and also Windows 8 are machine interfaces with "touch" technology. Vocal and visual stimulation become less important as tactile stimulation intensifies. Tactile stimulation is also used for Alzheimer's and dementia patients.
But iPads and tablets aren't the cure for autism. The weight on parents and caregivers is heavy, and their resilience should be inspiring. As many times as I've asked and pondered the question, how can we use technology to better lives of people, the answer for autism seems to be hindered by issues of awareness and funding.
Anyone can make a difference and golfer Ernie Els (PGA) has done just that with the Els For Autism Foundation, raising $30 million dollars to construct the Els Center of Excellence in Jupiter, FL.
Two years ago, when I visited with and interviewed the CTO of Pender County School District in NC (Aerohive Networks New Learning Model), I learned why the school district's iPad deployment with WiFi was successful: Kids were engaged with educational gaming software using iPads over WiFi. Because of their positive experience and engagement with the iPads, they stayed in school and truancy rates dropped, while math proficiency scores improved overall by 11%. Given these potential improvements, imagine how appreciative and welcoming that parents with autistic children are.
Understanding autism isn't easily navigated and appreciated. In reviewing autism and technology, I came across Ido In Autismland: Climbing Out of Autism's Silent Prison written by Ido Kedar, a 16-year-old with autism. Here is the header from Ido's blog:
"I am an autistic guy with a message. I spent the first half of my life completely trapped in silence. The second--on becoming a free soul. I had to fight to get an education. Now I am a regular education student. I communicate by typing on an iPad or a letter board. My book, "Ido in Autismland" is now available on Amazon. It is an autism diary, telling the story of my symptoms, education, and journey into communication. I hope to help other autistic people find a way out of their silence too."
Shifting our efforts on how we can change to improve technology solutions to change lives means engagement, and user experience must remain key. These enhancements must encourage communications, and to do this we must remove all barriers to communicate.
It will be interesting to learn what the researchers discover about how schools can administer effective iPad deployments. The opportunity is to determine best strategies and discover effective methods for autistic children to use iPads, Droids and tablets.
The technology role of the iPad is as an assistive device, not a cure or prevention; but the gains or improvements realized by any kid are highly valued--and that we do know.